North Korean propaganda is one of the most well known facets of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Propaganda takes many forms, from media, social media, posters, movies even to the NK-Pop scene. Political messages are very much part of everyday North Korean life.
But, whilst propaganda often has negative connotations, it is also done for things such as public health campaigns, to efforts in improving social harmony. Propaganda, especially when it comes to North Korea is certainly not always some kind of nefarious thing.
North Korean propaganda is often very much a work of art, posters from the DPRK are collectors items and some of its cinema has been celebrated the world over. We take an in depth look at propaganda from the DPRK, both in and outside of the country.
Themes of North Korean Propaganda
Propaganda related to the leaders of the DPRK
One of the most pervasive forms of propaganda you will find in North Korea is that related to the leaders of the country. We will assume you know who they are, but just in case here is a refresher course. The country was founded by President Kim Il-Sung, who led the country until his death in 1994. He is still regarded as the eternal-President of the DPRK. He was succeeded by Generalissimo Kim Jong Il until his death. The current leader of the country is the respected Marshall Kim Jong-Un.
Throughout the country you will see statues and the portraits of the first two leaders of the country, not to mention various quotes by them, literature written by them, and pictures of them doing on the stops guidance. To understand anything about the DPRK, you must first understand just how much respect the leaders are afforded in the country, a respect that you as a guests are expected to show too. This is the most pervasive, but in many respects most interesting form of North Korean propaganda you will see when you visit the country.
North Korean Propaganda with regards to foreign relations
Another one of the most interesting forms of propaganda when it comes to North Korea, but also not dissimilar to what can and has been seen in many other countries including our own. Countries that are friendly to the DPRK are often painted much in a much more positive light than those that are not. Americans have traditionally been painted as war criminals and enemies of the DPRK, although this was dialed back majorly during the recent detente. South Koreans are seen as runnings dogs of the Americans and capitalistic exploiters, whilst allies are seen in a major much more positive light.
Previously the immense ties between the USSR and the DPRK were promoted, whilst nowadays China is usually positioned in a positive light. These opinions have been seen on propaganda posters and even collectable stamps.
Racial pride in North Korean propaganda
Koreans in general are quite nationalistic and this is something that is put across on both sides of the 38th, something they have in common at least! Koreans are very proud of their past and of simply being Korean and this is something seen in much propaganda.
Propaganda related to reunification
The theory of racial pride with regards to North Korean propaganda always plays a part in how the division of the country and reunification is treated. Blame for the division of Korea is placed fully on foreign forces, and in modern policy and propaganda this includes the Soviet Union as much as it does the USA.
Reunification is regularly part of the propaganda of North Korea and is definite policy of the DPRK. Now whilst officially the DPRK recognizes itself as the legitimate government of the whole Korean peninsula, contrary to popular belief it does not seek “take over” South Korea.
Official propaganda pushed the policies of President Kim Il-Sung, whereby the country would be united under a federal system, namely the Confederal Republic of Koryo.
You can read more about what a unified Korea might look like here.
Propaganda to promote social issues
This is emoting often looked at disparagingly, but in actual fact is not all that different to public heath campaigns that would be seen in non-socialist states. These have included everything from trying to dissuade people from smoking right up to health warnings related to the current coronavirus pandemic.
To read which countries are open to travel during Covid-19 click here.
This of course is far from an exhaustive list of themes related to North Korean propaganda, but they do represent some of the main themes that are seen in everyday life in the country.
Mediums of North Korean propaganda
When it comes to mediums to promote government policies they are a number of forms used in daily life, such as TV, posters, art and film, to name but a few. We take a look at some of these different forms and the way they are presented.
North Korean Monuments
In many respects the monuments of North Korea are not all that different to ones in other countries, many are based around wars, achievements of the country, sacrifices and the like. The difference in North Korea when compared to other countries is that there are many more based either around the exploits of the leaders, or the party and ideology of the country.
You can read more about North Korean monuments here, but a few stand out examples of this form of propaganda are the Juche Tower, which celebrates the Juche ideology, and the Party Foundation monument, which celebrates the Workers Party of Korea.
You can read about Juche here.
North Korean propaganda posters
North Korean propaganda posters are probably the most famous form of propaganda from the country. Available as prints for tourists to buy, but more importantly one of the most omnipresent features of travels throughout the country.
They are used to relay messages of a social nature, such as health campaigns, to warn against enemies of the state, but also particularly for certain government “drives” such as to increase production, or the like.
Read about the Chollima Movement here for example.
They are also an ever changing beast and whilst there are ongoing themes, one of the most interesting things about driving through Pyongyang, or the rest of the country is seeing what the current government messages are. Policy of the government of the DPRK is painted very clearly through their use of propaganda.
Private advertising in North Korea?
One of the most interesting things about the propaganda posters in the DPRK is that they are strategically placed in places that in any other country would have “real” adverts, or to be more precise corporate propaganda. There are scant private neterpises in North Korea, although you will see a sign for DHL, which has an office here.
For DHL Pyongyang click here
The one exception to this is the advert for the Peace Car”, which was previously a joint-venture between North and South Korea, but is now made in partnership with China. Forget your Lada’s, or Trabants, this is a well made car. The Pyeonghwa Motors add is thus the closest thing you will see to a private “add” in North Korea, although it is at least partly state owned.
To read about Pyeonghwa Motors click here.
The North Korean media and propaganda
All television stations, newspapers and magazines are controlled by the state. Many are controlled by different organs of the state though, such as the party, or the military for example, but it still means they largely follow a similar party line.
Of course the socialist view of this is that the media is thus controlled by the “people”, rather than by big business as it is viewed to be in western countries.
To read about Socialist Countries click here.
Buying a North Korean newspaper, or periodical is certainly a very good gift to take home though!
Propaganda and North Korean cinema
Propaganda and North Korean cinema are one and the same, a point made very clear in the book “On the art of Cinema” by Kim Jong-Il. Cinema is there to suit the needs and wants of the party.
This though does not mean that North Korean films are not good, in fact there are some truly amazing North Korean films.
For more on North Korean cinema in general read the following, which is the first of a 7 part series on North Korean films here.
North Korean Music and Propaganda
There are some truly great North Korean songs and certainly not all of them fall into the propaganda camp, but certainly the Song of Kim Il-Sung, the sing of Kim Jong-Il and the song of Kim Jong-Un would fall into this camp.
Much like other forms of propaganda, some songs fall into the social message catageory. One of our favourites, extols the virtues of the humble potato.
And what for K-Pop? Or rather does North Korea have K-Pop? I guess you could call the Moronbong Band NK-Pop. Beautiful women singing songs and playing instruments in a very modern way, If you do not speak Korean you;d be forgiven for thinking these are all up-beat love songs, but generally they tend to have revolutionary messages associated with them.
You can read an extremely in depth analysis on the band here.
And here is a YouTube clip of my very favorite NK-Pop song.
North Korean Cheerleaders!
I’m going to balk at calling this all out propaganda, but more refer to the North Korean cheerleaders at the winter Olympics in South Korea as North Korean “soft power”. They did though certainly steal the show to an extent and whilst drawing the usual North Korean stereotypes generally painted the country in a great light.
North Korean Social Media
We have covered this extremely extensively in a previous article which you can read here. but North Korean maintains a number of websites and social media channels to promote the country and, or its policies.
Whilst a cynical eye would see this as purely propaganda, you only need to look at official government accounts from western countries to see we are all at it to an extent.
And that is the story of propaganda in, or from North Korea and how it is on a daily basis.
Want to see DPRK propaganda up close and personal so you can make your own mind up? Join one of our tours to North Korea